A brief note before this post: I recently had a discussion with my boyfriend as to why I haven’t done any book reviews lately, despite continuing to read at a rabid pace. I reasoned that I do not desire to read anything I don’t have an interest in and therefore my “reviews” come across as incredibly one-sided. I lack objectivity in most things in life and this is no different. Since I am not being paid to review, and therefore really do not have a reason to read anything I don’t want to, it is difficult for me to say anything besides how much I adored something I read. Therefore, the reviews I am going to do from this point forward are much less critiques than they are a simple discussion on something I’ve given my time to for the past little while, just as I would speak about any experience I have.
I had the absolute pleasure of attending a Q&A and book signing with Lena Dunham on Thursday. She is, without a doubt, a hero of mine for a variety of reasons. To simply be in the same room with her was thrilling, but to hear someone so candidly speak about her life, experiences, and work, including her missteps and personal issues, was incredible to me. I left there with an even greater respect for her and a copy of Not That Kind of Girl in my bag, autographed to me, my name in her handwriting.
I even managed to get out about five words when face to face to her and this was a personal victory.
I know I am a little behind the times given that the book came out a few weeks ago now but I have an intense desire to talk about it. I picked it up this morning and have hardly put it down since, resenting having to make food and shower during this time. It is a beautiful book, as candid and thought-provoking as Girls and, as I recently discovered, as she is in person. Covering everything from sex to school to work to her struggles with mental health, it was as much of a cathartic experience to read it as I could only assume it was to write it.
I relish in moments where I do not feel alone. It is a rare and beautiful time when I connect with another person in a way that makes me feel that while I may be going through life blindly, I’m not necessarily the only one doing it in my quirky, sometimes ill-advised way. In this past year I knew I found one of the greatest friends I would ever know when I admitted to her that, given the opportunity, I will look through anyone’s things. She did not laugh, she did not judge, I just watched her eyes light up as she said, “Me too!” and we embarked on a conversation in which we found a mutual understanding that we were not trying to snoop, we simply wanted to know. Everything.
Every single page of this book held a moment like that for me. I had moments of such deep and utter recognition I felt, without jealousy or resentment, that Lena Dunham had written my story long before I ever got the chance to. The undesirable sexual situations, the difficulty in dealing with life and death, even right down to naming a black and white hamster Pepper – these were all things I knew already and had no idea someone else did, too. As she starts recounting her experiences with anxiety and the things she fears I felt a large wave of relief wash over me. Only this morning I listed for my boyfriend the reasons jumping off of anything was terrifying to me which included full paralysis or ending up catching your foot at the last second and smacking your body off the structure rather than making it safely to the ground. To me, this made sense yet his facial expression told me that it was possible my reaction was overblown. Only a little while later I read about Dunham’s anxiety and reminded myself that even in the craziest of things I am not alone.
It is difficult to write about your experiences without coming across as overly self-involved. Who is anyone, really, to write about their life as if the rest of us want or need to hear about it? It is a tricky thing to do, to show that while you are attuned to yourself enough to want to share your story, you are doing it for the benefit of others as well as yourself. Dunham does this with such grace and such depth of understanding it is difficult to believe that she was meant to do anything other than tell us her entire life story. A person who can write the way she does, with such passion yet somehow still maintain a level of emotional distance to allow the reader to get what they need out of it, is a person that needs to be allowed to continue to write.
As much as it seems she needs it to help herself survive, I know I need it for the same reasons. And I don’t think I’m the only one.
Not That Kind of Girl is brave and refreshing. She never apologizes for mental illness, for her past mistakes, for anything she has ever said. But she also makes it very clear that it doesn’t necessarily make it easy, it’s not frivolous, and the things she has experienced (and still does) are, at times, incredibly serious and require special attention.
I would prescribe this book to anyone who has ever made a mistake. Anyone who has ever been young. And especially to any girl or woman who has ever wondered who the hell she is and where the hell she’s going.